Webster’s Dictionary says, “graduation is the conferring or receipt of an academic degree or diploma marking successful completion of studies” and “a ceremony at which degrees or diplomas are conferred.”

Oh, but it’s so much more than that.

Over the past couple of weeks, high school seniors in Half Moon Bay, Pescadero, Pacifica and across the United States have taken the stage to shake the hand of their principal and walk right into whatever comes next. It’s as important as any ritual we have.

Let’s begin with the achievement itself. The academic rigors of high school today might be recognizable to parents and grandparents, but the social, technological, cultural swirl that carries high school students today from wide-eyed freshmen to all-knowing graduates is unlike any other time in human history. Students need to know more than reading, writing and arithmetic. They must master entire suites of computer programs, become search engine pros, and integrate cellphone texts, their own photography and so much more into reports that look like they rolled out of corporate offices.

Which would be challenging enough without Columbine (and hundreds of other depressing school shootings) and COVID-19. In many ways, the young adults that received degrees this week have been through more trauma than any of their ancestors. We hope that makes this week, this recognition, all the more sweet for hundreds of Coastside teens.

High school graduation may not be a uniquely American phenomenon, but it is likely revered as a milestone here in unique ways. Generations of us have known that high school graduation means we are adults and expected to carry our own weight in ways we barely considered mere weeks before.

More high school grads go onto college now than in generations past. There is a feeling that modern careers require more education than they once did. That is partly because many well-paying blue-collar jobs have disappeared, victims of automation and offshoring over the years. The National Center for Education Statistics says about two-thirds of high school graduates go straight to college now. For most, a high school diploma is simply entrée into an even more challenging academic world.

Most of us keep our high school diploma in a faux-leather folder. Fancy fonts convey the importance of a document that is often kept in a shoebox high on a shelf waiting for that someday someone needs confirmation that we have arrived at adulthood. It is not the important thing. The striving, the striding forward through school and onto that stage on graduation day is the important thing.

Congratulations, graduates. Welcome to the rest of your lives.

— Clay Lambert

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